Citizen Oversight of Policing in Carrboro

I'm going to be a little awkward. There is already a thread about the recent Carrboro and Chapel Hill Police Forums. I will be linking this post to that thread. But I want to set out (at boring length) what I have been advocating for since those Forums. And I don't want to clutter up the entirety of that other thread with my meanderings (as fascinating as I know you will find them!).

As the above link to the forums make clear, a number of us in Carrboro want the establishment of a Citizen's Task Force, to be given the responsibility thoroughly to review policing in Carrboro, and, if thought necessary, make recommendations. I have my own thoughts about what I would like such a Task Force to address. But my main purpose is to help to create the space where citizens of Carrboro may have the opportunity to ensure that the policing approach in their community has their consent.

I set out in more detail here why I think we need a Citizen's Task Force.

I set out here why I feel the need for citizen oversight of police, and what that means to me.

And I set out below the communication I have had to date with Damon Seils, who appears to be the Carrboro Alderman who is co-ordinating citizen engagement with the policing in Carrboro. I have already informed Damon that I will be making this communication public. E-mail correspondence with Carrboro Aldermen is in the public domain in any event. And I believe the matters we are discussing may be of interest to other Carrboro citizens. I sure hope so. We are each of us responsible for ensuring that the policing in our community has our consent.


"Hey Damon,

It's been a while since the first Carrboro Public Forum on Policing. I know I am not the only Carrboro citizen interested in being involved in an ongoing discussion on policing in Carrboro. I wonder what further opportunities are being offered to this end? And specifically, if the Board of Aldermen have considered the suggestion of establishing a citizen's task force, to research, analyze and discuss our town's approach to policing in detail?

All the best,


"Hi, Geoff. Thanks for checking in.

On November 18, Chief Horton presented a report to the Board of Aldermen in follow-up to the October 6 community forum. Agenda materials and video from the meeting are available online at

Chief Horton identified several actions as a first step in addressing
the predominant themes from the forum. These actions include, but are not limited to:

* racial equity training of police personnel;

* improved records management and statistical data and work with the public defender's office to identify racial profiling and alter policing
methods accordingly;

* targeted conversations with specific community groups, especially young people of color; and

* additional community engagement activities, including at least 2 community forums per year, the next tentatively scheduled for June 2015.

In addition to the actions identified in the police chief's report, the Board directed the staff to include the following items in their next update:

** update on participation of the chief and the captains in the Organizing Against Racism program;

** update on participation in the Fair and Impartial Policing program, including cooperation with other local police departments;

** update on the potential for implementing a citizens' police academy;

**update on further conversations and work with public defender James Williams, including progress on improving the Police Department's record keeping and statistics reporting;

** update on planning for the next community forum or listening session, possibly in June 2015;

** information about the City of Durham's recent adoption of a requirement to obtain written consent for searches and what such a policy might look like in Carrboro;

** information about how the Police Department's law enforcement resources are currently allocated in terms of the share of arrests, citations, etc for different kinds of incidents;

** plan to include in upcoming budget discussions the possibility of staff-wide racial equity training;

** update on follow-up with Todd LoFrese about student safety concerns in the schools;

** information about a potential forum or conversation with persons interested in discussing domestic violence; and

** information about other resources or support the Police Department may need from the Board.

I know the staff is also aware of the importance of more advance notice
of any upcoming forums to allow citizens to plan their schedules appropriately. These actions are what Chief Horton and the Board have
identified as first steps, and I know the chief sees them as a beginning. I hope this information is helpful.

Thanks again,


"Hey Damon,

Thank you for responding so quickly.

I can only speak for myself. Although my sense from what I have heard and seen of the first Carrboro Policing Public Forum, and from other commentary attendant upon it, is that I am not the only one with my views. Which is clear, for example, with the number of people requesting a Policing Task Force.

So, for myself, I think I have been reasonably clear that what I was looking for, and what I think is appropriate in the climate now existing in our nation, and in Carrboro, what I was looking for was an opportunity for concerned citizens in Carrboro to be involved in a thorough review of policing in Carrboro, if necessary a re-design of the policing approach, and perhaps eventually, some sort of permanent civilian oversight of policing in Carrboro.

While I welcome what you cover in your e-mail, it does not seem to address any of what I was referring to. Citizens are not being offered any kind of pro-active involvement in reviewing, re-designing or overseeing anything. And the matters you raise appear to be a rather limited, even if welcome, shopping list of PR, education and communication.

So. I will try again. If it needs to be a formal approach, then please regard this as a formal approach/request. Would the Carrboro Board of Aldermen please consider establishing a Task Force of citizens and police, with the task of thoroughly reviewing all aspects of policing in Carrboro, and making recommendations?

All the best,



If I left an impression that the next steps are mere public relations exercises, perhaps that was more an indication of the quality of my summary than of the substance of the items.

The priorities that emerged in the community forum related overwhelmingly to issues of racial equity and the need for better engagement with specific segments of the community (especially youth and people of color). The next steps identified by the staff (and supplemented by the board) are informed largely by those priorities, and we take them seriously. This doesn't mean other ideas, such as those you proposed, aren't being considered. As I noted in my last message, this is a beginning.

I cannot speak for other board members. My sense is that we wanted the staff to identify specific actions to address specific problems raised at the forum. I believe the staff has done that, and I believe there is value in seeing that the staff has the time and resources to carry out those actions successfully. I am especially interested in the work the chief is doing with the public defender's office to understand and
do something about troubling data showing racial/ethnic disparities in policing. This is not "PR" as far as I'm concerned.

As always, I would be happy to discuss further (even in person!).



"Hey Damon,

Again, I thank you for taking the time to write what you did.

I entirely agree that any overarching review of Policing in Carrboro should be a cautious, step-by-step process. We might differ on the length of time taken for the steps. But I'm not advocating wholesale and immediate change because it was yesterday's flavor in the New York Times.

I think the possible - not certain - but possible major differences between us are twofold:

1) I get the impression that you, and maybe other members of the Board of Aldermen, are happy to have any review be undertaken by police and staff. Whereas I (and maybe others) want the process to be citizen-driven.

2) You (and maybe others) are content with adjustments to the existing
situation. I (and maybe others) would prefer that all matters be under review.

There is a further point, which may or may not add context to the seeming disconnect in our exchange.

I am one who believes that those we elect are elected to lead a conversation with citizenry before making decisions. Others, and you may be one, believe they were elected to make decisions, regardless.

In all the circumstances, I think I will take you up on the offer of meeting. I think this is a matter of importance to both of us. And I would like to see a meeting of minds, rather than a gulf.

At the same time, bearing in mind all e-mail exchanges with an Alderman are in the public domain, I trust you will not mind if, in addition to posting the exchanges on my Facebook Page, I post them on OrangePolitics.

I really do believe that these matters are of interest to a number of other
citizens in Carrboro. And I would like to hear from them, too.

Let me know about meeting. My days off are Thursday and Friday. Plus, I am available any morning before noon.

All the best,

Damon has now responded very nicely. And we are arranging to meet.

My sense is this is not a one-man campaign. I get the feeling, from commentary all over the place, not least the several demands at the Carrboro Policing Forum for a citizen's task force, that other citizens in Carrboro want more pro-active engagement with their policing - beyond being passive observers in six-monthly 'listening sessions.'

If that is the case, all I ask is that, if and when the time comes for a show of support, please don't stay at home. I will update as we progress.



So, I made my pitch for citizen design of policing in Carrboro, NC - my home town these past 10 years - on WCHL 's "The Commentators," on Wednesday, December 17.

I don't expect much progress over the holidays. But it never hurts to stoke the fire a bit.

In the meantime, some movement is evident already. Three Carrboro Alderpeople (Damon Seils, Michelle Johnson and Randee Haven-O'Donnell) have already been in touch, saying they'd like to compare notes after the Christmas break.

None of this is to say progress is going to be made behind closed doors. That is precisely what I do not want.

I want the dialogue about policing in Carrboro (a dialogue I hope will become a template for communities with more pressing policing problems than Carrboro), I want that dialogue to be open, transparent and driven by citizens.

I have already told the Carrboro Alderpeople who have been in touch that I will be quite openly publishing notes of all conversations and communications we have.

But these conversations do offer an opportunity to share thoughts, and see if there is common ground, so that maybe efforts can be in tandem.

Side point. Worth making again. The goal is for citizens, elected officials, police, communities to design dialogue, structure and processes, consensually, which will allow communities to have a policing approach with which they are comfortable.

But there is another side to it. And it becomes most evident when I read a recent article about the police reaction in Durham to the protests there.

The lose-lose-lose-lose situation is when we have a community that feels it is not being protected, protesters who feel they cannot express themselves safely, elected officials wringing their hands uselessly and police feeling they are being left hanging out to dry, because no-one is giving them clear guidance.

The win-win-win-win situation is where all in a community - citizens, police, protesters, whoever - are given the opportunity to be involved in designing an agreed policing approach, everyone knows exactly what is and what is not acceptable, police have clear rules of engagement, and if and when they follow them, they are fully supported by all in the community.

That is the goal of my push for citizen oversight of police. It creates an environment where everyone is clear and supported. And those who wish to make trouble know exactly what will happen when they do - and it will happen with the support of the community in which they seek to make trouble. No-one is left hanging out to dry.

I will continue with the updates, and look forward to input from the rest of the community as the opportunities finally become available. I really can't see any political objection anywhere to the notion of a community designing its own policing approach. Whether you are Tea Party or anarchist ...


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